Teaching Geography with Children’s Literature: I Lost My Tooth in Africa

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“My dad says if you lose a tooth in Africa and put it under a gourd, you will get a chicken from the African Tooth Fairy.”

So begins I Lost My Tooth in Africa, a delightful story written by 12-year-old Penda Diakité and illustrated by her father, Baba Wagué Diakité.  Penda grew up in Portland, Oregon,  but her father was born in Mali.  Every year, Penda and her family travel back to Africa to visit her father’s family in Mali.  Inspired by the true story of her younger sister, Amina, Penda masterfully crafts a suspenseful charming story about losing a loose tooth on a trip to Mali.  The story is full of rich cultural details and subtle information about how location and physical surroundings impact how families live.   Beautiful ceramic-tile illustrations support the story-line and add additional information about the climate, clothing, food, housing, recreation, and community relationships in Mali.  The book also includes a world map depicting the “two days, three planes, and three different continents” required to travel from Portland to Mali.  The book closes with a glossary of Bambara words (the national language of Mali), a recipe for African Onion Sauce, and the words to Grandma N’Na’s Good Night Song. Appropriate for pre-K through third grade, this book is a wonderful way to introduce the influences of location and place on culture.

Curriculum Connections

This lively children's book provides a fantastic opportunity to engage early elementary students in introductory geography and the different ways that location, climate, and physical surroundings affect the way people meet their basic needs: food, clothing, and shelter (1.6). By using a relatable experience like losing a tooth, teachers can guide students in a discussion of the differences and similarities between the cultures of this Mali community and the community in which they live as well as the geographical reasons for some of those differences. Specific questions for consideration include:

  • Where is Mali?
  • What is the climate like in Mali?
  • What are the physical surroundings like?
  • What types of clothing do the characters wear?
  • What kinds of foods do they eat?
  • What activities do the children participate in on their trip?
  • What animals do they see?
  • What types of shelters are in the story?
  • How do these details compare with how and where you live?

In addition, the inclusion of a world map at the beginning of the book, provides an opportunity for teachers to make a connection between places referenced in stories and where they take place in the world (K.4).

Additional Resources

  • Kameshi Ne Mpuku: An African Game – Children's games are typically reflective of the environment where they are created.  This lesson plan and accompanying activity helps children to understand the similarities and differences between an African game and those that they might play on the playground at their school as well as the impact that location has on recreation.
  • Political Map of Africa – This map can be used for coloring and identifying the location of Mali as well as the general biomes of the continent.
  • Africa Savanna – This lesson plan highlights key characteristics of the African savanna where Bamako, Mali is located.  Understanding more about the climate, vegetation, and animal life of this part of Africa is important for understanding why the foods, building materials, and clothing in the story might be different from one part of the world to another.

Book: I Lost My Tooth in Africa
Author: Penda Diakité
Illustrator: Baba Wagué Diakité
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Publication Date: 2006
Pages: 32
Grade Range: PreK-3
ISBN: 0439662265